Tripping balls in the middle of a gaggle of reporters is the ninth circle of hell.
My first decision was whether to take the five-dose strip of LSD before or after I arrived at the Superdome. I settled on doing it after, which turned out to be the right choice. The line for media to get into the stadium was hundreds of people long and zigged and zagged through the bowels of the Superdome garage in a way that made it impossible to tell how long it was and what was around the next corner. It just so happened that the end of this line had some bomb-sniffing dogs and fully armed military personnel. As I told my editor later, if I had eaten the acid before getting in line, this story would’ve ended when I saw the bomb-sniffing dogs. I would’ve high-tailed it out of there – probably screaming – and been eaten by those vicious animals.
Despite having worked as a full-time sports journalist in a past life, this was my first time at a Super Bowl Media Day. I was surprised to find that there was no workstation set up for me to drop off my stuff and get my bearings before sneaking into a darkened corner to take my drugs. Nevertheless, I still managed to take those drugs in a darkened corner – I knew from experience that the bitter taste and tingling on my tongue was a good sign. I checked my watch: 9:30. The San Francisco 49ers would be on the field in half an hour for their stint with the media.
The acid first started creeping in while I was standing next to 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. I overheard someone ask Colin if he was a “steak and potatoes” kind of guy, and then I repeated “steak and potatoes” a few times into my iPod. I don’t think I attracted a great deal of attention, but I almost lost my shit when I noticed Kaepernick was getting beamed, God-like, onto the Superdome Jumbotron while I was standing mere feet away from him.
By this time, the trip was lapping against my mind in more consistent and powerful waves. I was very thankful that I had so many toys with me (my cameras, my iPod, and my smartphone) because fidgeting with my gear was a way to calm myself down. I’m not sure if this looked strange to anyone, but I’m also pretty sure I was staring at my camera without doing anything for what seemed like hours.
In reality, it couldn’t have been too long, because my next voice memo, recorded at 10:42, has me noting that the 49ers only had a few minutes left on the field and that I hadn’t asked any questions. Suddenly, I felt the urge to do something – everyone around me was moving with a purpose while I wandered around aimlessly and stared at the mysteriously pulsating artificial turf. I tried in vain to ask 49ers running back Frank Gore a question, but was beaten to the punch by a radio DJ who asked him if he’d ever had an imaginary girlfriend and some other guy who asked Gore, “If you had a Pegasus, what would you name it?” I made a voice memo wondering if I was imagining all of this.
Then I saw this guy:
Anyone who follows the NFL knows that Super Bowl Media Day is more of a sideshow than an earnest chance for people to learn new information about the teams playing. So I shouldn’t have been surprised to see the “Super Bowl Samurai” (as he called himself), but it was still jarring. It also made me wonder if maybe I was playing it too safe. Like, maybe I could’ve screamed, “I’m tripping my fucking dick off!” without anyone batting an eye. But by the time that thought entered my brain I noticed Univision had sent out a reporter wearing a Mexican wrestler’s mask, and for reasons I won’t get into here, I had stashed my own Mexican wrestler’s mask in my backpack before leaving the house, and to make a long story short:
Around this time I made a voice memo about how my heart was racing a little bit and that the acid was really coming on strong. I realised that the 49ers’ availability had ended and I hadn’t gotten anything done. I began to panic. What would my editor think? Oh, that’s right, I remembered, I’m not really a reporter, I’m just playing one. I calmed down a bit and headed up for the media lunch. When I got there, wouldn’t you know it, Marshall Faulk was holding court in the lunchroom.
You can't really see it, but that's Marshall Faulk.
Now, LSD or no LSD, it was pretty hard to pass up the chance to sit and talk with one of the greatest NFL players of all time. I hovered around Faulk’s table and observed the rotation of serious sports writers earnestly seeking an interview, wondering how I could get in. The next few minutes are a blur, but somehow I found myself next to Faulk as he talked about his past Super Bowl experiences, growing up in New Orleans, and what his favorite food was when he visited home.
“I don’t have a favourite,” Faulk told me. I was standing around or sitting next to him for over 15 minutes, and he didn’t seem to notice I was tripping.
When I left Faulk, I realised that it had been nearly four hours since I ate breakfast. As anyone who's taken acid can tell you, one of the keys to tripping is reminding yourself to eat even if you don’t feel hungry. The spread offered to the media was extensive and confusing. I spent far too much time staring at it all when I should have just been stuffing things into my face. All I ended up grabbing were some pieces of melon and two muffins, none of which I could enjoy properly because I happened to sit right next to some former colleagues who I was afraid would notice my weirdness. I pulled down my hat as low as possible, inhaled my food, and went back out to the field feeling like I had dodged a bullet.
While walking back to the main event I recorded a voice memo that says I felt an intense pressure to “do something and go interview somebody or write something but I don’t have to do any of that. I’m just tripping and having a good time.” Still, I decided to at least make a vague attempt to do my journalistic duty and talk to more people.
This turned out to be harder than I had anticipated. The Ravens’ media availability was much more crowded than the 49ers, and the acid was firing on all cylinders. Luckily, I ran into a photographer friend of mine who, while he wasn’t aware of my mental state, was able to calm me down a bit with some banter. That’s when I came up with the great idea of asking him to photograph me interviewing people.
He agreed and snapped away as I tried to make my way through the scrum in front of Ravens safety Ed Reed and head coach John Harbaugh.
I’ll freely admit that I did a terrible job of talking to either of those men. As you may or may not know, tripping balls while in the middle of a gaggle of reporters shouting questions two inches away from your ears is the ninth circle of hell. Just as I was about to sprint out of the herd, I saw a man dressed as a superhero of some sort and was sure I had completely lost it. He was asking Harbaugh questions about his parents and whether they loved him or his brother (49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh) more. This was far too much for me to handle, so I fled. My photographer friend gave chase (he still had my camera) and then I ran into Artie Lange, whose weird face inexplicably made me feel at ease, so I decided to interview him.
I talked with Lange about his prior trips to New Orleans (he said this was around his tenth time in the city) and what he thought of the Big Easy’s recovery from Katrina. He said that he didn’t see much difference between before and after the storm, which he guessed was a good thing, but he offered few details about his visits other than the fact that he got really drunk and went to a bunch of strip clubs. I think this was the most substantial interview I conducted all day.
The Lange interview calmed me down and, after retrieving my camera from my photographer friend, I headed back into the media scrum. Reaching into my pocket to find my iPod, I discovered a radio that I was given upon entering the stadium, which let me tune into any interview booth I wanted. I had completely forgotten that this thing existed, but was ecstatic to find it hiding out in my pants. It was like I had suddenly been blessed with a crappy superpower. I thought it would be a great idea to go to Ravens’ quarterback Joe Flacco’s booth and listen to him on the radio as I tried to ask him questions. The radio was on a delay, which caused an echo effect that really had me tripping out, and I started to giggle uncontrollably. I’m not sure how long this went on for before I noticed I was getting sideways glances from Flacco. I got scared and walked away.
By this time the Ravens’ media availability was ending and I again felt the urge to do something and talk to somebody. I guess once you get into reporter mode, even if you’re just pretending, you can’t get out. I rushed back to Reed’s booth and kept shouting at him about what his favorite New Orleans musician was (I knew Reed grew up in Louisiana).
“I grew up on Cash Money, but there are so many, man,” he said. “My favourite is probably Ma$e. I know he’s not from here but we embraced him.”
'Mission accomplished', I thought. Looking back, it wasn’t the Pulitzer-winning quote it seemed at the time, but somehow Reed’s answer to my question put my mind at ease. Just then, the stadium announcer told the media that the Ravens’ availability was over and it was time for their team photo. By this time, every inanimate object I looked at seemed to be bending in time, so I gathered my things and left the building.
Realising I had a couple hours left on my trip, I thought it was a good idea to make a lap around the Superdome and take some pictures. Unfortunately, the security around the Dome was like the Korean DMZ. Every time I heard someone shout I thought it was at me. I was too nervous to linger for long, so I headed back to my bike. But not before taking one last picture of a German reporter who seemed hopelessly lost:
Despite the anxiety of being surrounded by so much security, I took comfort in seeing this poor, lost German in lederhosen because while he was an ocean away from home, all I had to do was ride my bike for a few minutes to get back to my apartment so I could shower, regroup, and enjoy the rest of my trip.
Hank A. Knightly is the pseudonym of a reporter who doesn’t want to lose his credentials over some harmless drug use.
More fun with acid: